On the walls of Galerie Rolando Anselmi, pots, apparently from 18th Century China, are mounted onto a metal structure that presents them horizontally, replicating a modern sound system. There is an intentional mirroring of the physicality of the pot and the mouth, so as to resemble a mouth pronouncing a vowel. The absence of actual noise entails that the viewer must then extrapolate the noise for themselves. However, if you hold your ear up to the mouth of the pots, you can hear a distant rumbling, like the murmur from a conch shell. In the installation, there’s a strong juxtaposition of the organic versus the artificial: the metal of the stands versus the earthy materiality of the clay pots.
This contrast extends into Li Gang’s other work, ‘Sphinx’, constructed by setting natural elements against fabricated ones, using a metal and glass window frame, plaster and human hair. ‘Sphinx’ does not immediately evoke the ancient Egyptian character: the well-known ‘Sphinx’ is typically associated with a woman’s head, her face an impenetrable mask, on the body of a large cat, serving as a gatekeeper, a holder of mysteries. Li Gang’s work is instead a large plinth, the window serving as the hidden interior, the plaster, along with the hair, covering the outside. If seen from afar, the plinth gives a feeling of monumentality, of permanence.
But the details of ‘Sphinx’ slowly reveal themselves as you approach. On the plaster is ornamentation, possibly created by leaving a metal object on the plinth and allowing the rust to permeate the material. The resulting image is a purposeful decoration that looks like a mistake. The element of human hair is discomfiting, occasionally jutting out of the plaster.
Across the room, facing ‘Sphinx’, is a painting entitled ‘Draft’, which is executed on a binding of hemp ropes. The rope, hand-woven together, contributes to an unexpected sculptural element in the work, which is further emphasized by the thick impasto of the oil paint. From certain angles, it appears representational, and the imagery resembles an industrial window; from others, the heavy application of paint gives a three-dimensional texture.
With his new show, Li Gang relies on disorientation or “pleasant surprises” to keep us on our toes. The total exploration of his artistic practice, material, application and technique is evident within the walls of Galerie Rolando Anselmi.